Thursday, May 21, 2015

function and dysfunction

Let's tell a tale of two programs.

The baseball team - profiled last week as they kicked off a road sweep of the Tar Heels - has lifted themselves off the NCAA bubble and is looking at a probable 2 seed in the tourney.  They're just about out of contention in the ACC tournament after a bullpen meltdown against Miami - to get to the final they'll need to win out and hope Miami loses out - but even getting where they are now has been a pretty gutty performance.  Especially Tuesday, when they mercy-ruled Georgia Tech right out of Durham.

Sign of a healthy program.  (Figuratively speaking.)  They might've not made the ACC tournament at all.  Then they might've not made the pool play.  Instead, over a four-game stretch, they dominated against supposedly level competition.  The announcers during the UNC series couldn't stop talking about how UVA looked like a team ready for the postseason while UNC looked flat and uncompetitive.

It's a mindset, perpetuated by a coach who knows how, when, and why to push the buttons, and enabled by veterans with expectations.  There will be 16 regional hosts.  UVA will not be one, but one of them will be awfully chagrined to see the Hoos come to town.  And that doesn't mean UVA will be the favorite to come out of whatever regional, but if someone else does, they'll feel just a little like they dodged one.

There are, of course, obstacles, starting with that aforementioned bullpen.  It's thin because there are two starters laid up with injury and thus two guys who, in a four-game (or God forbid, five-game) regional, will be starting when ordinarily they wouldn't have.  The best shot we have is to just go 3-0; if it stretches out against the 1 seed, we'll run out of depth before they do.  But even in a down year, UVA commands respect with its play.


Contrast that to everyone's favorite facepalm inducer.  Remember, the football team went 5-7 last year.  That's bad, but on the surface, it's not that bad.  It's not like, Duke-under-Ted-Roof levels of walking, talking incompetence.  But that's what it feels like.

Normally a team with a pretty good share of upperclassmen coming off a 5-win season would be expected to improve and go bowling.  But if UVA's not picked last again in the Coastal by every observer from Boston to Miami, it'll be an upset.  This is a team that doesn't know how to succeed, coached by someone who just mashes the buttons randomly hoping to land a hit.  As you might've learned from playing Mortal Kombat growing up, that works just often enough to have you keep trying it.  Unless you're going against someone who knows what they're doing.  Then it just becomes a slaughter.

This week the dysfunction came erupting to the surface when two - two! - quarterbacks announced their intention to take the hell off.  One eventually stayed after a meeting with the coaches to "clear the air," or beg him to come back, or whatever.  The aftermath of all this saw two incredibly sobering facts come to light.  I can't take credit for either, but I repeat them here anyway:

-- 2011-2012 was the last time the UVA quarterback who started the last game of one season also started the first game of the next season.  It won't happen this year, making three offseasons in a row UVA has either benched or lost its previous starter.

-- Not one quarterback recruited by Mike London has finished his career at UVA as a quarterback.  Michael Strauss, Mike Rocco, David Watford, Phillip Sims, and Greyson Lambert all transferred out.  Brendan Marshall and Miles Gooch switched positions.  Jake McGee switched positions and transferred out.**  And Corwin Cutler had to be convinced to stay.

We'll see if Matt Johns can last two more years.  Nobody else left on the roster has ever thrown a college pass.

It's not really worth wasting much more time on the whole situation.  I had plans for a much longer diatribe, but there's no point anymore.  Either you already know Mike London is a complete drooling bungler when it comes to the subject of developing and managing quarterbacks, or you've got denial issues sort of the way Hitler insisted the war was still winnable in April 1945.  Some men you just can't reach.

Cutler's about-face doesn't really fix anything.  It's certainly helpful.  Johns has two years, free and clear, to do something with the job, after which Cutler will be badly needed if he fends off Nick Johns and Sonny Abramson.  Patience on Cutler's part gives him a chance to be The Future.  Assuming any or all of them stick around, which is no guarantee.  But Cutler is essentially a tool in the toolbox.  For a man who needs an instruction manual for a hammer, that's not much use.  Cutler stays, but so does the dysfunction, until the broom finally comes out.

**That might not be fair since he was never really recruited as a QB, but hey, while we're piling on, let's just point out that the only really good tight end London recruited did in fact transfer, which is not exactly a sign of a healthy program.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

what the hell happened

That title could easily refer to the lacrosse debacle Sunday, but truth is, figuring that out would be a waste of words.  The same things that were wrong with UVA lacrosse all season (including, by the way, a seeming lack of interest from the coaching staff in fixing fundamental mistakes) were also wrong on Sunday, plus Matt Barrett made less than one save.  Barrett had been keeping the Hoos in games all season.  When headstands from the goalie were absent, the whole house of cards plopped to the ground ignominiously.

Nope, this is about baseball, which I've set a record for not talking about this year.  It's a little harder to follow this year because I refused to fork out real money for the amateurish production that is Cavaliers Live.  On the occasions when they've been on real TV, it's been painful to watch.  A team that was comfortably in the preseason top five now is not even a lock to be top ten in the 14-team conference - which would put them outside the ACC tournament.

It's very flattering that UVA has the kind of program where as long as you return enough players, your replacements are assumed to be good enough to carry you to the elite ranks again.  All the same, given the questions faced by the bullpen and the outfield this preseason, ultra-lofty expectations probably shouldn't have been thrust onto this team.  A top-25 selection would've made sense.

Once the injury bug got its hooks into this team, though, it never let go.  And it kept on biting during the season.  Joe McCarthy and Nathan Kirby are arguably the team's biggest star power.  McCarthy missed a huge chunk of the season with a back injury and has not at all returned to form since picking up a bat again.  Kirby was humming along very nicely (though not quite dominant, which was contributing a bit to the team's swoon) when his lats said "screw you buddy" and shut him down for the season.  Add John LaPrise - a .348 hitter last year - to that mix.  What that left us was just four of last year's starters - counting the pitching rotation - that didn't either get hurt or go pro.  Kenny Towns, Daniel Pinero, Brandon Waddell, and Josh Sborz.  That's it.

And then all the replacements got hurt, too.  Jack Gerstenmaier was on track for a starting job until his hamstring said nah.  Derek Casey had settled very nicely into the weekday starter's role when that went south on him, too.  Casey, in fact, was slated to move into the weekend job with Kirby just recently out of the lineup, and his start against Longwood on a Tuesday was supposed to be a shortish one so he could be ready that Sunday.  Ernie Clement, the usual starter at second base, missed a handful of games, and Matt Thaiss hasn't been able to help out with the catching, being limited to playing first base by a wonky hip.  (That said, Thaiss has been unquestionably the MVP at the plate this year.)

Here's the wacky little secret, though: This team isn't hitting that much worse than last year.  Last year's team?  Not overwhelming at the plate.  Good enough to win in front of the absurdly good pitching that propped it up.  It really feels like they're hitting worse, and maybe the better pitching in the postseason takes your numbers down some.  (That said, that's not really the case last year, not so's you'd notice.)

But, runs per game in 2015 is 5.39; in 2014 it was 5.48.  This year's slash line: .273/.360/.381.  Last year: .280/.375/.377.  Those aren't real differences.  A real difference would be as compared to 2013, where the bats pushed across 10.9 runs a game and batted .312/.408/.463.

Thing is, 2013 had that amazing hitting and decent pitching.  2014 had amazing pitching and decent hitting.  Both were enough to carry the team a long, long way.  This team has decent hitting and decent pitching.  Add a dash of not being so good in the clutch - real big surprise for a team relying much more heavily than usual on freshmen - and you get a team whose record is.... decent.

This all puts UVA in a funny place: the bubble.  For both the ACC and NCAA tournaments.  I'm not sure they can make the latter if they miss the former; the Hoos are trying to fend off Wake Forest for the final spot, although the conference is so tight this year that a whole bunch of higher seeds are in play.  (Which don't much matter, because 7 through 10 are all in the same boat.  They'll play one game to try and get to the pool play.)  Should the Hoos win their way into the ACC tourney, they ought to hear good news from the NCAA committee as well - though it'd come in the form of a 3 seed somewhere.  We'll take it.  Freshman experience and all that.  Next year, when the team has to stop putting a bunch of guys in roles they weren't meant to play (all those injuries wreaked absolute havoc on the rotation and bullpen, for example, and not just on the guys who can't go) things should be back to normal.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

hoops in review, part 2

The much-coveted hoops review continues with the second half of the roster.

#11 - Evan Nolte - Jr. SF

Preview quote: "Nolte's an interesting case. It's very fair to say that other than the freshmen who we haven't seen at all, he has the least predictable role on the team, and even then, it's not like we don't know what Devon Hall or Jack Salt are here for."

In the preview I labeled Nolte a power forward after some deliberation.  Here he's a small forward.  That about sums things up, really.  Nolte was an odd duck of a player this year, with no particular defined role and lots of minutes regardless.  He was the only player to cross over between the frontcourt and backcourt, playing about a quarter of his minutes as one of two bigs rather than one of three guards.

Those minutes were weirdly situated, too.  Nolte's playing time was circling the drain midseason, with a stretch of four games where he played six or fewer minutes.  He was down to three against UNC.  Then Justin Anderson broke his hand, and Nolte immediately jumped to 24 that very game.  He would play almost two-thirds of his season total minutes in the final one-third of the season, starting every game but the last and regularly topping 30 minutes on the court.

This was to the consternation of quite a few fans.  Nolte's most readily apparent role was to shoot threes, which was supposed to be the thing he did best.  Instead he had a completely horrible year in that area.  The whole deal was eerily reminiscent of Sammy Zeglinski, who caught way more heat than he deserved because he wasn't shooting as well as people thought he should.  (I should've anticipated this.  Nolte also took totally unwarranted heat for his sweet choice of shirt during summer run-from-the-cops shenanigans.)

Me, I get irritated at fans who act as if the only thing that matters is shooting.  Nolte was in the game for so many minutes all of a sudden because he was getting it on the defensive end.  I also wrote before the season that Nolte was due for a big jump in play, and though nothing he did on a stat sheet would've indicated such a leap, his defense was, somehow, outstanding.  They don't hand out defensive all-conference honors for stubbornly staying in front of people, but one thing you hardly ever saw was Nolte getting beat on the ball.  It involved the adoption of a really goofy-looking defensive stance where Nolte made himself much shorter than his 6'8" frame and stuck his hands out palms-forward, but that right there was your leap ahead: on-ball defense and the invisible game.

I don't think we'll see 30 minutes a game for Nolte next year, but then I also don't think he'll shoot under .300 from three again.  It didn't look like there was anything wrong with his shot; they just didn't fall.  But what he did do is establish himself in Tony's mind as a player well within the circle of trust; up til the last month of this season, you'd have wondered about that.  Last year the prediction was that Nolte was one player in danger of seeing his minutes dwindle if he didn't develop a dependable skill set.  Like it or not, he did that.  It showed a bit late, but he did that; next year, as a senior, the minutes will be there.

#13 - Anthony Gill - Jr. PF

Preview quote: "[H]e should find himself in the conversation for some all-ACC recognition if all goes well."

All did go well, and this is the simplest, most straightforward assessment we'll do on the whole team.  Gill moved into the starting lineup this season and had little trouble with the transition.  His efficiency probably exposed some vestiges of pacism among the all-ACC voters; he was KenPom's #7 player in the country (a rating admittedly heavily influenced by team quality - but then, so is all-America voting) but only third-team all-ACC.

Gill was actually UVA's most efficient offensive player, nosing out Justin Anderson.  Like a lot of the players on this team, he's terrifically strong, and he used that muscle to be a terror on the offensive boards; draw copious fouls; and make 58% of his shots.  He was at his best going straight at the rim.  He liked to try fallaway shots as well (especially, and very maddeningly, against MSU) and they weren't nearly as effective as a simple bull-rush at the rim.  Gill has enough quickness to start the move, and then use his strength to finish and/or draw the foul.

Not much to overanalyze here, really.  Gill was the offensive centerpiece of the frontcourt, a role he stepped into like a pair of slippers.  Darion Atkins had such a tremendous year that he was the clear focus on defense, but next year that'll probably be Gill too.  He'll be one of the conference's top returning players next year.

#15 - Malcolm Brogdon - Jr. SG

Preview quote: "[T]here's every reason to expect him to become not just UVA's marquee player, but one of the ACC's as well. ... [F]irst team all-ACC is the expectation."

Mission accomplished.  Brogdon was one of four players to be a unanimous or near-consensus pick for the media's first team (the others were Jahlil Okafor, Jerian Grant, and Rakeem Christmas.)  Brogdon was also on the all-defensive team, making him and Christmas the two best all-around players in the conference.  Scoring is what usually gets you a lot of attention, but Brogdon was rightfully recognized as an elite on-ball defender.  He's really big for a guard, so going around him was difficult, and he's quite probably the strongest guard in the conference.  Best example of his skills: Wake Forest tried to use Codi Miller-McIntyre to break him down one-on-one for the game-winning basket, and Miller-McIntyre never made it past the key.

Offensively, Brogdon is actually even better than he thinks he is.  To be specific, his ballhandling and driving.  He doesn't lack at all for confidence in his jump shot, and in fact has the really maddening habit of shooting them with his toes on the three-point line.  He'll come off a curl, or he'll take a step-back jumper, and it'll be from a distance that might as well be a three if you're gonna shoot from out there, but isn't.  Next year I hope he starts his move six inches further from the basket.

But I digress.  Brogdon doesn't have a lot of deception in his driving game, but he's so strong he doesn't need much.  The guy can finish through a ton of contact.  He has it in him to be that clutch scorer who's there when you absolutely, positively need a bucket, and he's flashed that ability.  If he figures that out, UVA might not lose a close game all year.

#21 - Isaiah Wilkins - Fr. PF

Preview quote: "In his commitment profile I called him a Swiss Army knife of a player; he doesn't blow you away with shooting range or power and strength, but he's athletic, long-armed, and energetic, and should do a nice job on defense as long as he's got the system down enough to be out there."

I think that sums up Wilkins's season awfully well, actually.  He started off against JMU with a game that drew a ton of praise for its all-around contributions: 8 points, 5 boards, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals in 19 minutes.  Almost all those numbers were season highs, as it turned out, but Wilkins had far too much depth in front of him to be in for 20 minutes every night.

His usage was a little erratic - he played 14 minutes in a tight one against Notre Dame after sitting the last three completely out, for example.  And his offensive game wasn't well-developed at all.  But he sported - with small-sample-size warnings applying - an 8.7 block percentage, and had 2.7 blocks per 40 minutes.  The fewer the minutes, the worse the extrapolation, so that's a number to be taken with many grains of salt, but even so, he had 18 blocked shots - which was two more than Anthony Gill in less than 1/3 the playing time.

So I think he had a perfectly acceptable year, which I don't mean as damnation with faint praise.  Playing the one spot where a freshman would've had the hardest time standing out, he managed to at least carve a niche.  Tony and the staff are starting to work on a real nice track record developing big men - just look at Mitchell and Atkins - and Wilkins should be due for a big increase in responsibilities next year.

#32 - London Perrantes - So. PG

Preview quote: "The bottom line is, UVA has as veteran a point guard as you'll find in the league - and he's a sophomore."

The narrative was that after the electric scorer and deadly shooter broke his hand and had to sit, the normally pass-first point guard starting take a more assertive role in the scoring department, helping to shore up the business of getting points for the scoreboard.  It sure seemed that way.  It wasn't quite.

Perrantes did do that, a little bit.  He took about two shots more per game post-Justin-injury than he did before it.  But his three-point shooting percentage took a nosedive from last season - which surprised me, because, again, it didn't seem like it.  He made up for it by being a better shooter from two and upping his assists, but the overall numbers picture doesn't line up with the narrative.

Which is why we rely on numbers, but we're not a slave to them.  Point guardery isn't always about the numbers, not even the assists.  Perrantes did assert himself more than last year.  He made himself more visible, more available.  He was more active without the ball.  There wasn't, on the stat sheet, a huge difference in his play from last year, but he developed all the same.

#33 - Jack Salt - Fr. C

Preview quote: "The likely contribution is as a practice body."

Which was the case; Salt, as expected, redshirted.  Details on how that year went depend on who you ask.  I've seen reports ranging from "not progressing as hoped" to "Tony absolutely loves what he sees."  With Mike Tobey a senior next year, I think Salt's career will continue to be on a slow start.  But we'll at least get a few chances to see what we have in the big Kiwi.


So, a quick look at the rotation for next year.  The Hoos have to replace about 28 minutes in the frontcourt and 24 minutes in the backcourt.  It's tempting to say we already saw what replacing Justin Anderson will look like, but Tony, like most coaches, had settled into a rotation he liked by the late stages of the season, and simply extended a few players a few minutes each and gave Evan Nolte the rest.  Next year is a bit of a clean slate.  Devon Hall will have a chance to reassert himself, and Darius Thompson (who some reports say is easily the quickest ballhandler on the team and a great candidate to add a slashing dimension that wasn't really there last year) will have every opportunity as well.  And Marial Shayok could see a large boost from his 14.6 minutes as well.  It's a crowded situation.

The bigs don't have it any easier.  Gill is the only one with a guaranteed allotment.  Mike Tobey will play, of course, but he might stick around 17 minutes or he might get ten more.  Wilkins should become more of a regular, and Salt and Jarred Reuter, who even knows?  It's a surprising amount of unknowns for a team that returns most of its players.  The fact that there are so many possibilities is a showcase for the remarkable depth.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

final lacrosse bracketology

Here it is, the final projection for the lacrosse tournament.  The selection show is at 9:00 tonight, so in about four hours we'll see if I'm any good at this.

Some portions are easy.  The play-in games are not difficult to figure at all.  Geography and resumes converge to make them an easy call.  The top five seeds are relatively simple as well; I think I'd be surprised if they were in any other order than that one, and very, very surprised if it was any but those five teams.

The next three seeds are tough.  UVA is certainly one.  Maryland is almost certainly another, despite their late-season swoon.  (Their loss to Hopkins was huge for UVA.  Maryland had a common-opponent edge by having beaten UNC, and they lost that with their loss to Hop.  Throw in a semifinal loss to OSU in the B1G tourney, and there's no longer a strong justification to put them ahead of UVA.)

Cornell had held down the 8 spot for a while, but they're not the Ivy champion.  Yale is.  And when I was trying to figure out the last couple at-large spots and the Ivy League was well-represented among the contenders, I noticed one thing: they'd all beaten Cornell.  Cornell has one marquee win that didn't also beat them: Yale.  Despite that, I broke with my system and gave the final seed to Yale, based on being Ivy champs and also actually having a marquee win OOC (Maryland.)

The committee has some tough work to do on the last two at-large spots.  As I see it there are six plausible contenders: Georgetown, Princeton, Harvard, Brown, Ohio State, and Marquette.  Harvard has wins over Yale and Cornell, but too many losses, including bad ones to Penn and Dartmouth.  Out.  Georgetown and Marquette don't have strong enough wins.  Marquette did beat OSU; their next best wins are Villanova and Richmond, neither of which are confused for contenders.  And the Hoyas are basically hanging their hat on two wins over Marquette, plus a win over Loyola.  Both out.

That leaves Princeton, Brown, and OSU for the final two slots.  Brown has a win over Princeton, which is hard to ignore.  But from a simple full-resume standpoint, I think Princeton is marginally the strongest.  They took Yale to the bitter end in the Ivy championship after upsetting Cornell, and they've beaten Yale earlier in the year.  They also have a win over Johns Hopkins.

In comparing Brown to Ohio State, you basically have a team that performed at a steady, decent level all year against a team with huge peaks and valleys.  Brown's best OOC win is Marist.  That's not too inspiring.  They did beat Princeton and Cornell.  But at some point, you just have to accept that the whole Ivy League is a blender that has spent a lot of time beating each other up.  Big OOC wins are important, which is why Yale gets a nod over Cornell and why Princeton gets a nod over Brown.  OSU, on the other hand, has been at times totally inspiring and at others a complete disaster.  The inspiring side (wins over Hop, Maryland, and, very importantly, Denver) outweighs the disastrous side (losses to Detroit and Rutgers and getting shut out by Notre Dame.)

So there ya have it.  If this is how it shakes out, it'll be fascinating for UVA.  A peaking-at-the-right-time UVA could put a stop to Lyle Thompson and Albany, who've inflated their stats against lame A-East competition, and then knock off a UNC team they nearly beat in the regular season to get to Philadelphia.  It's just as plausible to see UVA get rolled by Albany's firepower.  Of course, it's also just as plausible to see UVA get a totally different matchup - Princeton, maybe.  We'll find out at nine.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

a football peek

I'm so sorry to depress you like this in the middle of spring sports.  (Though if you've been following baseball, it'd be hard to be much more depressing than that.)  But we do still play football and with spring practice over, it's a good time to look in on the action.

First, a quick review of the attrition since the end of last season:

- David Watford transferred to Hampton.
- Eli Harold and Max Valles left for the NFL.
- Darius Lee is no longer on the roster.
- George Adeosun and Mario Nixon received medical scholarships.
- Dominique Terrell was granted his release last week.

We're probably not done.  Some names don't appear on the post-spring depth chart because they spent the spring sessions on the sidelines with some kind of injury (in fact, enough such players that you start to wonder about things) but in other cases....Terrell was conspicuously left off before his recent departure, and the end of the semester sometimes means others too.

I've updated the long-stagnant depth chart on this site to represent the post-spring situation. It includes brand-new tight end transfer Charlie Hopkins, formerly of Stanford.  Hopkins's arrival makes it 84 scholarships, for now.

The official depth chart is the really interesting read, though.  Here's how to interpret the info within:

-- Matt Johns is listed #1 at quarterback, without an "or".  Before Steve Fairchild's comments in Jeff White's column the other day, my opinion was that this means Johns is the starter in fall practice and the very likely starter against UCLA, but in no way should you make any wagers on who'll be the starter in November.  Or if we even have a proper starter.  What Fairchild said only strengthens that impression.  The cliff notes is that it's a continuation of this staff's maddening refusal to commit to a quarterback except in such instances as when it's to the detriment of the team.

-- The staff must really like UNC transfer-in T.J. Thorpe.  Thorpe is the only scholarship player listed on his side of the field at receiver.  Three scholarships each appear at the other two receiver positions.  That could be exciting, because Thorpe has always been a guy with burning speed but who hasn't put it all together just yet.  If he does, he could be a one-year wonder.

Most of the rest of the WR lineup isn't a huge surprise.  Doni Dowling is missing because he's hurt bad enough to miss the upcoming season, too, which sucks, but we have more depth than we need and plenty of candidates to make an impact.

-- A new RB coach in Chris Beatty could mean a fresh start for Daniel Hamm.  Granted, Hamm's big game was against hapless VMI, but his running in that game was still eye-opening.  Since then, nada.  Beatty seems to appreciate what Hamm brings - he's separated from the top line on the depth chart only by the dreaded "or", and on that note Hamm also has his scholarship, putting him on a more equal footing with the competition.

-- On the flip side, I really wish LaChaston Smith had been the linebacker that all the recruiting gurus had him pegged as.  We badly need the competition at linebacker this year, and Smith has been leapfrogged by redshirt freshman Jordan Ellis on the pecking order.

-- The depth chart has a note on it: "Some players not listed due to medical status during spring."  I suppose this means Dowling, but there's a few O-linemen to talk about too.  Sadiq Olanrewaju isn't there, and neither is Jay Whitmire.  I think it's fair to assume Dave Borbely, as a new coach to this outfit, isn't going to put someone on the depth chart if he hasn't seen them enough.

That said, everyone associated with UVA has burbled optimistically about Whitmire's return to playing status.  He did no such thing this spring.  He needs to actually play in a full game before I believe the optimism here.  Maybe two full games, since Demetrious Nicholson got in a game last year.

-- I really wish we would stick with a center the same way we need to stick with a quarterback.  Ross Burbank is back at right guard and Jackson Matteo at center.  But I kinda get it considering they have a "five best guys" philosophy and so many are hurt.  Sean Karl seems to be the next option at right guard, so putting Burbank there is OK by me since I still have bad memories of Karl's multiple matador performances on punt protection.

-- Likewise, the fact that Jake Fieler, a redshirt freshman, is ahead of Eric Smith on the depth chart would be awfully worrisome if it wasn't injury-related.  You'd have to wonder about Smith's development.  Oh, hell, it's worrisome anyway, but for different reasons.

-- The whole damn linebacker corps is getting replaced.  And the truth is, a LOT of eggs are in the starters' baskets.  Mark Hall, Micah Kiser, and Zach Bradshaw headline the list, and none of them have much experience because Valles, Coley, and Romero were so damn good.  Behind them is nobody who's played any linebacker at all.  Malcolm Cook slides down from safety; it's freshmen at the other two spots.  Prediction: a freshman is starting by the end of the season.  Too much competition to bet otherwise.

-- Last year the depth chart said 4-3, but the usual package was more a 3-3-5 nickel with Valles - a linebacker at times in name only - playing from the ground often.  That was because Valles turned out to be a major-league athlete.  Hall is not that athlete.  Does this mean back to a more traditional 4-3 most of the time?  I think it depends on what Bradshaw can do in coverage on slot receivers.  There's a plethora of cornerbacks pushing to get on the field - Tim Harris, Maurice Canady, and Demetrious Nicholson are all quality players and it's hard to imagine we don't see heavy use of all three.  The defensive ends might be tougher to take off the field than the linebackers, too.  The most likely look could be more of a 4-2-5 this year, because heavy use of the nickel is so often a necessity against today's offenses.


On the offensive side, the coaches have been talking about being more of a power running team than in the past.  Ostensibly this is because they like the play of fullbacks Vincent Croce and Connor Wingo-Reeves.  And sure, they probably do.  I have a hard time believing in this transformation.  There've also been noises about four-receiver sets and spread elements.  That's, like, two opposite ends of the spectrum.  I don't think you can be both Wisconsin and Oregon.  If you have two quarterbacks you don't have any - and the same goes double for offensive identities.

Power running is a mindset.  Bo Schembechler's philosophy was that if his guys were more motivated, and bigger and stronger and better at scrumming it up, he'd win.  It worked because that was before everyone had a million-dollar weight room and before Under Armour commercials convinced every college player they were DIZRESPECTED WARRIORZ.  It still works for teams like Wisconsin and Iowa because they commit to doing it and recruit for it.  We don't have boulder-sized offensive linemen, we just have offensive linemen, and if they're being asked to blow a hole open one play and finesse-block the next, I don't see how this works.


The last big news was the cancellation of the Stanford series and immediate replacement with Indiana.  Basically this is the front office doing exactly what I said couldn't and shouldn't be done.  Shouldn't, because  I figure we look like assholes for reneging on agreements.  So now, maybe we do, maybe we don't.  "Scheduling conflicts" was the reason, but Stanford has no replacement, so it's probably not their scheduling conflict.  At any rate, the schedule-for-success crowd has their win, and I'm not really bugging out because the 2017 schedule looks fine with Boise State, IU, and UConn and the 2018 schedule is nowhere near finished.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

lacrosse bracketology

Upsets this week conspired to shake the hell out of the bracket, and temporarily shrink the bubble.  Autobids this week are now handed out either to actual winners of them (Syracuse and Colgate) or to conference #1 seeds (everyone else.)

That includes everyone's favorite looming specter over the proceedings: Hopkins.  Yep, and not only that but they're in position to get an at-large invite if they don't win the B1G tournament, thanks to finally earning the signature win they lacked all season.  Their work isn't done, though.  Say they beat Penn State and lose to Maryland in the B1G tourney.  The RPI bump from that would be very slight, and some of their other metrics would drop.  The Ivy results will matter to Hopkins, too.  If, say, the Ivy final is Princeton over Yale, Hopkins would be sweating it out - Yale has the same signature win as they do, and very comparable metrics, better ones in some cases, worse in others.

The bubble is awfully interesting.  It doesn't include any of the "next four out" teams - the line is heavy and bold between "first four" and "next four."  It also doesn't include Harvard, which despite beating Yale this weekend can do nothing to improve their position.  It's basically seven teams: Hopkins, Georgetown, Yale, and Brown on the good side for now, and Marquette, Princeton, and Ohio State on the wrong side.  And all of them but Hopkins have excellent opportunities in their conference semis.  Brown and Yale face each other, as do G'town and Marquette.  Ohio State drew Maryland.  Princeton has Cornell.  Hopkins got Penn State, but if they win, they'll get their shot at a quality opponent too.  It's one of the most interesting bubble weekends in memory.

Last week's important games:

-- Patriot League tourney: Won by Colgate.

-- ACC tourney: Won by Syracuse, but Duke's semifinal win over Notre Dame was enough to boost them past Denver - even with the win by Denver in head-to-head.  With Duke playing Boston U. this week and Denver getting busy in the Big East tourney, I think Denver is a near sure thing to move back up to #4.

-- Denver 18, Marquette 11: Denver's been unstoppable in the Big East this year.

-- Cornell 15, Princeton 10: Nice win for Cornell, helps to solidify them among the seeded teams (and UVA, too) but the rematch next weekend will be more important.  They could lose that seed with a loss and a good showing by certain other teams.

-- Brown 17, Dartmouth 8: The Bears had no trouble, and earned their shot at their first tourney bid since 2009.

-- Johns Hopkins 15, Maryland 12: The Hop just couldn't leave well enough alone.  Not that I'm sorry to see Maryland lose, but bracketology is easier without a team with a resume like Hop's.  They've now guaranteed that they'll at least be at-large eligible; we'll see how the committee likes them.  Or not, if they win the B1G tourney.

This week's important games:

-- CAA tourney: Drexel / Towson, and Fairfield / UMass.  One bid, with Towson being the only one with a shot at hostig a play-in if they win.  Anyone else would go on the road barring a major upset in another one-bid league.

-- NEC tourney: Hobart / Bryant and St. Joe's / Mount St. Mary's.  St. Joseph's is the favorite, but no matter who wins they're going on the road for a play-in.

-- MAAC tourney: Detroit / Quinnipiac and Marist / Monmouth.  A surprise to see Siena completely out of the title picture, but they haven't been good all season and Marist has been just shy of dominant in conference play.  Marist could host a play-in game, depending on the results in the other conferences.

-- SoCon tourney: Richmond / Furman and Mercer / High Point.  Richmond and Marist are both hosting games in the bracket above, but that's because Fairfield is the CAA #1 seed.  If the actual favorite - Towson - wins the CAA, they'll take a hosting slot and leave the Spiders and Foxes to duel it out.  Edge to Marist because their RPI is currently higher, and it should stay that way if both win.

-- America East tourney: Stony Brook / Vermont and Albany / Hartford.  Albany's been so utterly dominant in their conference that it's hard to see them losing.  This is the only plausible location for a bid thief, though.  Albany currently slots between Georgetown and Yale in the at-large race - which means they're currently in, and could be even if they lose to, say, Stony Brook in the final.

-- Big East tourney: Now for the really interesting conferences.  Denver and Villanova, nobody cares; Villanova is no obstacle.  But Georgetown and Marquette is a huge bubble game.  The loser almost definitely doesn't dance.  The winner probably does, though that's slightly more likely if it's Georgetown.

-- Big Ten tourney: Ohio State / Maryland and Johns Hopkins / Penn State.  You're rooting for OSU here.  Their inexplicable loss to Rutgers - a blowout at that - put them at the bottom of the bubble.  They can rectify that with a win over Maryland, but it's not for their sake that we want them to win.  UVA is very securely nestled in the #7 slot, because Maryland has a win over UNC that UVA can't do anything about.  The one possibility for UVA to move up?  If the committee decides Maryland is on a late-season slide and penalizes them as a result.

-- Ivy League tourney: Brown / Yale and Cornell / Princeton.  Oh, the possibilities.  The big dance only has room for three Ivies at the most, and Cornell is definitely one.  Somebody is going home disappointed after being in contention all season.

Monday, April 20, 2015

hoops in review, part 1

This was promised to you much earlier, but then I realized: if I write this before Justin Anderson makes his decision known, the whole thing will be littered with uncertainty and caveats.  Now we know, so we can get the show on the road.

#0 - Devon Hall - rFr. PG

Preview quote: "UVA's backcourt is fairly young this year, so a good-sized contribution from Hall is more important than it might seem."

This didn't turn out that way, because there was such a quantum leap forward from other players.  Justin Anderson, of course, and London Perrantes also became more of a scorer.  Hall was decidedly the last rotation option in the backcourt, and scored more than three points just three times.  He sat out 11 games entirely, and in ACC action, saw just over five minutes a game - that is, outside a particular stretch late in the season.

That would of course be the stretch that Anderson missed.  Hall didn't play against Pittsburgh, but averaged 15 minutes in five others.  And when London Perrantes was suspended to start the season, Hall got his only start of the year, in game one against JMU.

And that in a nutshell was Hall's role: it was other guys who ran the show, mostly, but when a spot opened up, Hall was counted on for a decent share of the minutes.  Redshirting and then the understudy role probably wasn't what he envisioned to start his career.  But it's hard to say he deserved scads more time; his defense was OK but not outstanding (that said, the point guard isn't asked to be the star of the pack-line) and his offense wasn't as efficient as you'd like.  He showed some flashes at times.  The Wake Forest game - the curbstomping, not the close one - was a particularly excellent showing.  But overall he played about as well as his minutes imply.  Not lousy, or he wouldn't have been the first option to replace a regular in the rotation - but not much to take note of.

Anderson's departure opens up about 28 backcourt minutes.  Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon are just about maxed out, but the competition is still going to be fierce for them.  Darius Thompson joins the fray next year, and it's whispered he brings a quickness and slashing dimension to the team that was lacking this year.  Marial Shayok is due for a big increase too.  Hall will have to work his tail off this offseason if he wants to make a large dent next year.  His role should increase, but it probably won't be til 2016-2017, after this large crop of rising seniors graduates, that he really becomes one of the front-and-center players.

#1 - Justin Anderson - Jr. SF

Preview quote: "He's got to take some part of his game - any part of his game, it really doesn't even matter - up a level or two."

I don't know.  Do you think he might've accomplished that?

I guess if going from under 30% to over 45% behind the arc counts.  Anderson actually cooled off as the season went on, because he started up over 60% - after Tennesee State, which he buried with 5-for-5 three-point shooting, he was over 68%, five games in.

That was enough to capture a lot of attention nationwide, but Anderson also gave a few other parts of his game a lift - he became more dependable from the free throw line, he fouled less and played better defense overall (though with fewer circus blocks, unfortunately) and he took better care of the ball.  He singlehandedly answered the question of who would replace Joe Harris's scoring, and became the infectiously enthusiastic face of the whole team.  And then, because We Can't Have Nice Things, he broke his damn hand.

That was really what drove home the point about what he meant to this team.  UVA only lost one game without him, but they weren't easy wins, and three out of his four games after his return were a mess.  He scored zero points in the whole ACC tournament and only defensively-challenged Belmont allowed him to look like his former self.  Anderson's play suffered, and along with it basically the whole offense.

A terrific shame.  Anderson was an exciting player his first two years, but he was a ridiculously athletic curiosity for the most part.  An X-factor, but the game was dominated by others.  This year he took over and became the guy Maryland fans are still pissed off about missing out on.  This is what's most disappointing about Anderson leaving.  The team, actually, will be just fine.  Tony Bennett is working on a nice track record of seeing his players take huge strides in the offseason, and no doubt someone will do the same this year.  Or a couple someones.  In fact, the team might be best off in the long run for this - if Anderson returned, the backcourt would've been incredibly crowded.  Now, some younger guys will get extensive playing time and the baton will be more easily passed off in later years.  But a full year of a guy like Justin Anderson in a starring role would've been some of the best entertainment in all of college hoops.

#2 - B.J. Stith - Fr. SG

Preview quote: "Stith has a good head on his shoulders and a dad who won't let him screw himself up, so I'll put in a SWAG here and say Stith redshirts."

Well, that was over quick.  Stith didn't redshirt, but he might as well have for all the playing time he got - almost exclusively with the walk-ons at the end of blowouts - and amid a smattering of talk that cracking the rotation might not ever be in the cards, Stith decided to rejoin his father and brother at ODU next year.  We won't get to see the second chapter of a Stith lighting it up in a Virginia uniform after all.

#4 - Marial Shayok - Fr. SF

Preview quote: "Shayok's calling card when he came in was his versatility."

Honest, I totally forgot that I'd written that as I watched Shayok this season and thought, "man, this guy can score a lot of different ways."  Versatile was exactly the word for what he did with the ball.  He showed he could get to the rim; he showed he could shoot the three; he showed he could create a few chances for his teammates.  He played a reasonably steady 15 minutes a game - right about average for the fourth guy in the backcourt rotation - and had a higher assist rate than everyone but Perrantes and Brogdon, the team's highest steal rate, and the backcourt's best block rate.  A better block rate than Anderson, in fact, and Anthony Gill as well.

You can't ask for a lot more out of a bench guy, and you can't ask for preseason impressions to turn out much more accurate than that.  Shayok didn't do anything dominatingly well, and he was plagued with occasional freshman inconsistency, but he did a hell of a lot of different things at an ACC level.  Out of a fairly large group of freshmen, Shayok was easily the best.

A guy who can score a lot of different ways is a good bet to find chances to do it more often.  Shayok doesn't have the kind of wild athleticism you see in early draft entrants, and that means Tony Bennett might have hit the sweet spot in recruiting here.  Shayok appears to have a well-developed court sense and has a great chance to be a four-year star for the Hoos.  And for that matter, a three-year starter.

#5 - Darion Atkins - Sr. PF

Preview quote: "Atkins probably won't start many games, if at all, and isn't a huge scoring threat. He probably trusts his hook shot a little too much."

Nice preview.  Atkins started 27 games, in fact, including all of them but one after New Year's, and in that one he played 31 minutes.  Oh, and he was one of the most indispensible players on the team.  ACC Defensive POY.  That hook shot I thought he trusted too much became a deadly weapon.  Simply put, he was one of the ACC's best interior forces anywhere.

Atkins got back all the bounce and athleticism he'd lost when the shin splints struck him two years ago.  And he played with a chip on his shoulder, as if making up for lost time and getting revenge on the fates that robbed him of a year and a half of usefulness.  It was so much fun to see him get that redemption and his year in the spotlight that nobody minded a bit when he got a technical for hanging on the rim against VT.  Sometimes you just let a guy have a moment.  This was the player that UVA and Notre Dame fought over in the recruiting wars.

Stories like his are what make college hoops fun.  Now there's a small conundrum.  Before the season the whole fanbase figured that "only" losing Atkins would mean basically the exact same team would come back next year, only a year older and stronger and wiser.  Now he's gotta be replaced.  It won't be easy; whereas Atkins was plausibly seen as very similar to Akil Mitchell, there isn't anyone left in that mold, nor much experience among the candidates.

#10 - Mike Tobey - Jr. C

Preview quote: "Keep him on the development curve at the same time and he's got a chance to open a lot of eyes in the ACC this year."

There hasn't been a more polarizing UVA basketball player since Sammy Zeglinski.  With Tobey, whether you like his game or not, there's evidence to support your position.  Tobey was only a secondary scorer at best, and his minutes actually dropped from last year.  He's really not useful against teams without big traditional centers, because he's fairly easily beaten on the block by smaller, quicker forwards.  His defense is a little slow and he doesn't appear to be a natural in the pack-line.

On the other hand, he's extremely useful against teams that do have traditional centers, because he's almost always much more skilled than they are, able to guard them with relative ease thanks to the security blanket of the pack-line and his better athleticism, and he has little trouble scoring against slow-footed galoots.  This season was easily his best offensively.  He was much more efficient than last year; he shot free throws as well as most guards, he was a terrific rebounder especially on offense, he made good outlet passes, and he turned the ball over very little.

I think a lot of criticism directed at Tobey - much of it to do with a perceived lack of effort - is unwarranted.  It's not any more valid than the idea that Atkins was disgruntled and unhappy because his face was kinda hangdog all the time.  Amateur psychology.  That and the expectations heaped on him when he was recruited.  If there were no such thing as recruiting analysts, Tobey would catch a lot less flak.  That said, he can be maddening at times.  He needs to find ways to get himself on the court more.  If he does, he's still got it in him to be an all-ACC player.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

lacrosse bracketology

This wasn't a big week for change; most if not all of the top 8 seeds are in the same place they were last week.  Even Cornell, which took a big Brown dump this week.  The biggest effect of that loss is to put Princeton in the Ivy lead this week, bid-thieving Marquette in the process.  The Tigers lurk as a dangerous bubble team in what is basically a fight between Ivy (Brown, Princeton, Yale) and Big East (Georgetown, Marquette) teams for the last few bracket slots.

Prognosticators suggest that a UVA loss to Penn next week could knock the Hoos out of hosting duties.  Don't you buy it.  Cornell is still the #9 RPI team and thus still a strong win, and Georgetown is only a couple spots behind.  The Hoos have nothing to show against the major national contenders, but have still firmly established themselves ahead of the rest of the pack.  Simply put, the resume isn't wonderful, but there's nobody else to knock them out of the top eight.

Other notes:

-- Towson also suffered a bad loss, and while they're still in the CAA driver's seat, it put them behind the Patriot League rep in RPI and thus forced them to the play-in game.

-- Look who's back - kinda.  Hopkins is 6-6 and now technically eligible, but they're further from real consideration than that graphic implies.

Last week's games of interest:

-- Maryland 10, Ohio State 9: The third one-goal win in a row for the Terps - this one in OT - is starting to raise a few questions about their ability to compete for the title.  You don't almost lose to Rutgers.  Their resume is largely unimpeachable, though, with only the Yale loss to blemish it.

-- Duke 15, Marquette 8: Marquette is a decent candidate for a berth and could certainly make it, but they don't inspire a lot of confidence they can upend their eventual host.  This could hurt them in the committee room.

-- Virginia 12, Georgetown 9: That should seal up a tournament game at Klockner.  No, scratch "should" - it absolutely will.

-- Brown 15, Cornell 6: This game was in Providence, so it's not that surprising Cornell lost; it is surprising they lost by nine.  Fortunately for UVA, Cornell stays in the RPI's top 10.

-- Notre Dame 15, North Carolina 14: My system doesn't give the Domers that big of a lead over Cuse and the Heels for the #1 spot, but that's because it doesn't take into account the size of the gap in various stats, only whether Team A is ahead of Team B or vice versa.  Also, the committee takes into account "average RPI of your losses" and Notre Dame's RPI is so flippin' high they're skewing the teams they beat way upwards.  None of that matters; ND is in fact so far in first place that I think they'd keep the #1 seed even if they lost in the ACC tournament.

-- Albany 12, Yale 11: I said last week UVA wanted the Danes to win, and they delivered.  The threat that Yale might move up to a top-8 spot is all but eliminated.  Albany, meanwhile, got a little insurance against losing the A-East tournament.  It's not ironclad, but it'll help.

Next week's important games:

-- Patriot League tourney: It's a 6-team affair with Bucknell playing Lehigh and Army against Loyola, with Colgate and Navy awaiting the winners.  (I've been erroneously assuming four teams, but nope.)  Not one of these teams is even a remote threat to get an at-large, so there are no bid thieves here; just one spot on the line between a lot of evenly matched teams.

-- ACC tourney: Notre Dame vs. Duke and UNC vs. Cuse.  The system churns out all four of these teams as the top four in the country; I moved Denver ahead of Duke for the head-to-head result.  Even so, you can see the implications; Duke could easily move up by winning this shindig.  This tournament is obviously going to help decide the seeding at the top of the bracket, and that's no small thing because the top six seeds are clearly a cut above everyone else.  The 7 and 8 seeds - at the moment, Cornell and UVA - are much less of a threat, while nobody wants to play Maryland at #6, nor Denver either.  Being top two will matter.

-- Denver at Marquette: Yet another chance for Marquette to prove themselves.

-- Princeton at Cornell: Princeton looked finished after bad losses to Stony Brook and Lehigh, but they could earn a lot of redemption here.

-- Brown at Dartmouth: You wouldn't think Dartmouth would ever figure into tournament seeding, but here's the deal: Brown is 3-2.  So are Cornell and Yale, and Penn is 3-3.  Brown loses every possible tiebreaker combo among all these teams but one: Brown-Cornell-Penn, which would come down to goal differential.  There's no way they get into the NCAAs if they don't make their conference tourney, which makes Dartmouth a must-must-win.

-- Johns Hopkins at Maryland: A Hopkins win here would light a fuse.  Would a 7-6 Hopkins team, with losses to six tournament teams (as long as Towson is one) and one marquee win, be worthy of inclusion?  Hopkins fans are so fed up with their team they probably wouldn't consider it a snub if the answer was no - but if the answer was yes, you can count on a lot of furious talk about protecting the old guard and TV ratings and such.  I think they'd still have a hard time getting past teams like Brown (assuming Brown takes care of business) but for the sake of sanity it's probably best for everyone if Maryland wins.  (A phrase I can't believe I just said.)  Hopkins would then be forced to get the autobid or nothing, and the decision would be out of the committee's hands.

Monday, April 13, 2015


Dom Starsia's formula for success has never really been a secret.  Recruit the most athletic players he can find, emphasize hard work and effort, and give them copious freedom to operate.  When it works, it's dynamic and entertaining.

Alas for Starsia's less-talented squads, "play smart" isn't a top priority.

This has been eminently on display the past couple weeks.  UVA had three times as many turnovers as goals against UNC, and over twice as many against Duke.  When we got a peek into the timeout huddle during the Duke game, I thought Dom might suggest, just once, that a handy trick for winning the game might be to observe the fundamentals of passing and catching.  He didn't.  He did exhort his team to have an extended possession, which might have been a roundabout way of doing so.  They must've decided 30 seconds was extended enough, because about that much game time later Duke was merrily clearing the ball and finding a nice easy path to the goal.

Observing the fundamentals of passing and catching has been awfully damn elusive of late.  Simply put, this is some horsecrap sloppy-ass lacrosse they're playing.  I'd like to blame it on youth, but there was Owen Van Arsdale lazily reaching toward a lazy pass, and missing.  There was Tyler German with a laser focus on reaching the corner of the box to complete a clear and no plan at all upon arriving, coughing up the ball as a result.  There was Ryan Tucker dodging his way straight into a double-team and freezing, paralyzed with indecision at the gall of the defenders to be defending.

Of course this team went 0-4 in the ACC; it's unrealistic to expect any wins when the offense, supposedly the highly efficient hallmark of this team, keeps shooting itself in the head.  I could deal with it if opposing defenses were taking the ball, or their goalie was putting up a stone wall, but what's really frustrating to watch is when two former weaknesses stop being weaknesses, and the strength of the team suddenly turns into brainless mush.

This team will still make the tournament and will probably host a game.  For all its irritating foibles, it's still one of the top eight teams in the country.  That's pretty amazing after losing to the whole ACC in ugly fashion, but it's taken really good teams to expose UVA's flaws enough to beat them.  I mean, at least we're not Hopkins, which just needed two overtimes to beat 3-8 Penn State.  The angst here is rooted in not being much of a national title contender.  At least if we're gonna be angsty about lacrosse, it's the right kind of emo.

Notes and stuff:

-- Matt Barrett, man.  UVA just wasted two of the best performances by a UVA goalie in I don't even know how long.  Very often in lacrosse, good goalie play is indistinguishable from bad goalie play until after the fact.  It's not like hockey where a bad goal sticks out like a sore thumb; you just sort of start coming to the realization that your goalie has let in too many shots.  If that realization doesn't happen, you've been getting good goalie play.  That's what Adam Ghitelman was like.  That's not what Matt Barrett has been like; he's made stops goalies have no business making.  My personal favorite was having his pass intercepted from a foot and a half away - very bad - then making the save from the same distance - even better.

-- Remember how Matt White kept playing midfield when he should've been playing attack and everyone was all "WHY??" It's almost like having Greg Coholan at attack is balancing that out.  The only difference is everyone knows why Coholan is playing attack.  (No Pannell.)  Frankly, though, it's a shame the depth at attack is such that it's preferable to cannibalize the midfield.

-- Stupidball, by the way, has not been limited to these last two games.  UVA won the Hopkins game despite taking multiple pages out of the Mike London Textbook of Personnel Management.  This included but was not limited to a player entirely forgetting that he was supposed to be on the field and wasting most of an EMO as a result.  I bring this old news up to illustrate what a season-long struggle this has been.  And the announcers, by the way, made a habit of pointing out a number of bad substitutions on UVA's part against Duke.

-- At least UVA gets a moral victory by not pulling off the Duke game's worst moment.  No, that was Duke's befuddling clear attempt in the second quarter, forgetting entirely about the 30-second clock.  It was a hell of a lot of fun to watch Duke piddle the whole time limit away for absolutely no reason, spoiled only by the announcers completely ignoring it and carrying on their talk-show conversation about something totally unrelated.  You want to know why people don't watch lacrosse as much as you'd like?  It's because when little-used rules come into play, the announcers are too busy blathering to explain the odd situation on the field.

-- I said it as part of bracketology yesterday, but it bears repeating: Beat Georgetown and a tourney home game is a lock.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

lacrosse bracketology

Lacrosse TV announcers - and Paul Carcaterra in particular - have this really annoying habit where instead of calling the game in front of them, they instead host a lacrosse talk show with a live game in the background.  Thus it was that during the Michigan-Ohio State game, Carc and his announcing partner got in a heated debate over whether UVA would be a lock to make the tournament or not.

It was a pretty stupid debate, because neither of them, in their spirited repartee over whether wins over Cornell and Loyola were good enough to be tournament material, managed to remember the upcoming game against Georgetown.  At times though, the debate veered in the direction of sanity; Carcaterra (who took the side of UVA and declared the Hoos a lock) demanded to know who in the at-large realm had anything better.

Therein lies UVA's salvation.  An 0-4 record in the ACC is a failure by all definitions, but the other salient point made by announcers (this one by Ward and Shraf during the UVA-Duke game) was that even the loser of that game would probably be the best team in any other conference.  Only two teams anywhere outside the ACC can claim a win over an ACC team - Denver (twice) and Maryland.  For this reason I struggle to say UVA would be the best team in the Big East or Big Ten this year, but Bill Tierney and an ACC exile is not bad company either.

Denver and Maryland are accordingly seeded above UVA, where they'll stay.  Take a look at the rest of the at-large contenders and their resumes; you might say you shouldn't get to the tournament based on who you lost to, but UVA combines a win over Cornell (still a strong contender) with no bad losses.  (Detroit over Ohio State, anyone?  Bellarmine over Marquette?  And those are teams actually in the bracket.)

So if you're tempted to worry UVA isn't even a tournament team let alone a seeded one, don't.  UVA can lock in a seed with a win over Georgetown, and even, heaven forbid, with a loss, isn't out of contention to host a game.

Some other notes:

-- Princeton, already with a tenuous grip on their tourney spot, shat the bed like crazy with a loss to Lehigh.  They can't be counted totally out, but that loss was absolutely murder.

-- If it weren't for that pesky rule about not matching up teams from the same conference, this bracket would've been fairly easy to put together from both a geography and a seeding standpoint.  (The committee claims that they don't seed the road teams because travel is the main concern, but results have shown they do in fact care about, say, not putting the #9 or #10 team against the #3 or #4 seed.  They don't totally scramble the pecking order in favor of travel.)  Yale ought to play Cornell and Marquette ought to play Denver in this bracket, but they can't.

-- The system I use says Syracuse should stay above UNC.  I was like, nah, they shouldn't.

Last week's games to watch:

-- Notre Dame 14, Marquette 7: As it turns out, Marquette can in fact get back into the field just by losing this game.  They needed that Princeton loss, too, though.

-- Maryland 11, Loyola 10: An incredibly close game that would've put Loyola in the field had they won it.  Drop Marquette, move Georgetown to the Duke game, and give Loyola a rematch against Maryland; that's what the field would look like this week with just a break or two the other way.

-- Yale 16, Brown 10: The Bears are starting to play the Hopkins role of boat-floater.

-- Navy 10, Army 7: Big win for the Middies that secures them a top-two seed in the very parity-laden PL tournament.  Despite the loss, though, Army is also in, and the field is set with Colgate and Loyola rounding it out.  Right now, Navy sits in the play-in game, but whoever comes out on top of the PL tourney will have a big resume-booster that should get them into the real first round.

-- Towson 8, Fairfield 7: The Tigers are slowly locking up the CAA, which they'll need to do with no blemishes in order to stay out of the play-in.

-- North Carolina 17, Syracuse 15: Goes to show how much lacrosse is really left in the season even when it's technically half-over; Syracuse looked unassailable a few weeks ago.

-- Duke 15, Virginia 8: One of these years, man.

Next week's games to watch:

-- Maryland at Ohio State: To borrow Bubble Watch terminology, OSU "should be in" but beating Maryland would make them a lock.

-- Duke at Marquette: Meanwhile, Marquette has "work left to do" - although they quite honestly could lose their way into the tournament.  They have Duke, Denver, and then almost certainly Georgetown in the Big East tournament - all of which are on their way to being in the bracket themselves.

-- Georgetown at Virginia: I'll guarantee you right now that UVA hosts a first-round game if they win this one.  Write it in stone.  If not....maybe still, but I'd rather not think about that.

-- Cornell at Brown: Cornell has two big games in a row; Brown and then Princeton.  Both teams will be gunning for the Big Red as their only path to a dance ticket.  Your rooting interest is Cornell so as to keep it a marquee win for UVA.  If Cornell crashes, the committee will look at Yale and Ohio State and probably consider that a team with a marquee win and a bad loss is a better hosting choice than a team with decent wins and no bad losses.

-- North Carolina at Notre Dame: A battle between #1 and #2, both in the conference and nationally.

-- Yale at Albany: The Elis are knocking on the door of a seed, and probably ahead of Ohio State in the pecking order to get a home game.  Since UVA is one of the teams they'd be taking that seed from, an Albany win would be helpful here.